China's Expo 2010 Shanghai opened on 1 May, is a world fair in the tradition of Britain's Great Exhibition of 1851, combining statements of patriotism and global ambition. It is expected to attract 70 million visitors in six months.
But why is China producing a world fair, and what messages is it trying to send?
Han Han, a famous writer in China obviously is not impressed with the way the Chinese government promote it. He says, ‘I think it is not how World Expo can bring benefits to China, rather, it is how China brings benefits to World Expo. With easy communication brought about by the information technology, the interest in World Expo is actually waning, and it is actually not necessary to hold the event in such a large scale. But China upgrades the World Expo. If you want me to give you an analogy, then it is like some of the brand names in China, they become red hot after good marketing. But when you use them on your body, you do not feel they are as good and as luxurious as they should be. Then, only when you are overseas, you discover that they are actually all second-rate brands.’
But some westerners obviously have other views.
University of California, Irvine history professor Jeffrey Wasserstrom, writing at The Huffington Post, comments on the sheer size of the event, and tries to explain why China is hosting it so soon after the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing: ‘One way to think of the 2008 Games and 2010 Expo is as a combination of events that China hopes will signal how far it has come in the course of a century or so, and how far behind it has left its former reputation as the "sick man of Asia." Its intention is to leave no doubt that it is now a place with not just one but two cities where great global events can be held.’
The Associated Press obviously think that it is part of China’s effort to showcase it soft power. It reported on 25 April:
‘Just as the Beijing Olympics showed China's growing economic and geopolitical influence for a few weeks in 2008, the biggest World's Fair ever will let China's communist leaders showcase design, tourism and cultural diplomacy over six months…
China is far from the first power or would-be power to use an Expo to announce its global arrival.
The Great Exhibition of 1851 in London marked the coming of the Industrial Revolution. The 1970 Expo in Osaka, following the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, showed Japan's rise as an industrial power.’